Glenn Miller’s music was my introduction to the music of the 40s. As the years have past I’ve learned who swung harder, who had the better arrangements, who was an innovator, and all that. But it all does come back to “String of Pearls.” You slow dance to that one, and everything’s clear.
It’s an excuse to trot out the band and give them some adventures. It doesn’t intend to be a time-capsule of an era whose tempo and timbre we’ll never see again, but that’s why it works so well as being . . . well, a time-capsule of an era whose tempo and timbre we’ll never see again. Start with the opening shot:
The city of stone. We move to the recording studio, where the band is tuning up. Many f these faces would have been familiar to the music fans of the day, although they may have been surprised to see the bass player was a bit tubbier than expected.
Yes. The Great One. Then the recording session starts, and brother, it’s a pip. It’s an all-in red-white-and-blue tune for the boys at war, the yobs doin’ their jobs, and it includes a shot of ultra-smooth Tex Benecke . . .
That's Marion Hutton - Betty's older sister - and the Modernaires. Imagine this bit of all-out patriotica, beaming down from the big screen:
Here’s the entire sequence. I love this stuff.
There’s a love story, and it starts in supercreepy fashion. So there’s this frail at the soda counter flipping over the latest wax by the Glen Mill - er, the Gene Morrison orchestra. Which is like Led Zeppelin playing a band called “Tin Dirigible.”
See the soda jerk? From the moment I saw him I knew who he was - some short men carry themselves like they think they’re taller.
Yes, it’s Bill Gannon / Col. Potter. He’s been trying to make some time with this one for a while, but she just won’t come across, Jackson. But when he offers to take her to see Glen Mi - er, Gene Morrison, she’s suddenly his best gal.
There’s a great sequence of the outdoor dance, with all the dance crazes of the day expertly essayed by beaming clean-cut swing enthusiaists:
But our lad suspects she’s not there for him:
By some odd turn of events, the singer finds the girl, steers her off to his car against her mild protests, then forcibly kisses her against her expressed wishes. This takes him about 2 minutes, tops. He’s obviously skilled at maneuvering groupies into a horizontal position; Gleason and the band’s piano player look on with rue, because this is what got them in trouble the last time they went on the road.
The piano player, on the left? Indeed: Cesar Romero.
Drip loser boyfriend shows up, and attempts to get his girl back, but because he is weak and not a musician he is humiliated, physically overpowered, and removed from the field of sexual competitors.
I think we’re supposed to be okay with this.
Later she shows up in another town to see the singer, but she’s not allowed in the theater without a date. (?) So she hangs around outside until he comes out, whereupon he’s delighted to see her - except she says she had to catch the bus. He’s confused. The bus? Where? Why, home, of course; dad will be concerned. Ha ha! What a kidder, he thinks.
You realize: he expects her to go back to the hotel and have sex. This is rather . . . modern.
You realize: he expects her to go back to the hotel and have sex. This is rather . . . modern. How do we get around this interlude of immorality? He proposes marriage. On the spot. And he means it. That would make her . . . AN ORCHESTRA WIFE!
Which means she’s part of a sorority of petty, nasty, jealous bitches:
Eventually the wives prove the adage that music is undone by the meddling influence of women: the band breaks up, because professional musicians in a successful organization are wiling to fly apart at the slightest provocation, break contracts, ruin their careers, and do it all because their spouses had a slap-fest based on easily-disprovable gossip.
This leads to a section of tedious back-and-forth scenes without any music whatsoever, a portion of the movie I’ll call “most of the damned movie.”